The French Air Service Nearly Rejected This WW1 Ace

Georges Guynemer was turned down five times before he got the chance to fly.

Georges Guynemer (left) and his gunner during World War I.

Aspiring apprentices may be encouraged by the experience of Georges Guynemer. Guynemer was rejected five times by the French air service before getting, in 1914 at age 20, a job as an apprentice mechanic. His biographer, Henry Bordeaux, reports the pitch that won him a position: “Captain, help me—employ me—employ me at anything, no matter what. Let me clean those airplanes over there.” Guynemer got what he asked: He did dirty work, like cleaning cylinders, for several months. Then, he  got the chance to fly. After several flights, his instructor wrote, “Too much confidence, madness, fantastical humor.” Guynemer was aware of the impression he made. “I don’t think I have achieved a reputation for prudence,” he wrote in a letter home.

By the fall of 1917, he had flown 600 combat missions, scored 54 victories and got shot down seven times. He didn’t survive the last. The air service awarded him the Croix de Guerre, or Cross of War, an award for heroism, and no doubt regretted its early reluctance to hire him.